- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

Israeli front-runner?

The head of a Jewish immigration agency has emerged as a new candidate to replace David Ivry as Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Sallai Meridor, chairman of the Jewish Agency, has the support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who have been deadlocked on the appointment since Mr. Ivry left Washington more than a month ago, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday.

Under the Israeli government's power-sharing arrangement, the hawkish Mr. Sharon and the dovish Mr. Peres have to agree on major ambassadorships, with the Washington position the most important.

The newspaper said the foreign minister has accepted Mr. Meridor, a member of Mr. Sharon's Likud party, because Mr. Peres could name a member of his Labor party to head the agency that handles Jewish immigration to Israel.

If the report is accurate, Mr. Meridor would be the front-runner. However, an Israeli official yesterday dismissed media speculation and said the situation remains deadlocked, as noted in Embassy Row yesterday.

"All the names are just names. Nothing has been decided," he said.

Mr. Meridor enters a crowded field of candidates for the position. They divide into three categories, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Mr. Sharon's list includes Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations; Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the United States; and Tzipi Livni and Dan Naveh, both at-large Cabinet ministers.

Mr. Peres' favorites include Dalia Rabin-Pelosoff, deputy defense minister and daughter of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; Avishai Braverman, president of Ben-Gurion University; and Daniel Gillerman, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.

Finally, a compromise list includes Roni Milo of the Center Party; Ephraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad secret service; and Avi Pazner, world chairman of the United Israel Appeal.

"It could be any of the above, or none of the above," the Israeli official said.


Defending Blackwill

One of India's top foreign affairs columnists is defending U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill, who has come under bureaucratic attack from his own staff in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

C. Raja Mohan of India's Hindu newspaper wrote this week that Mr. Blackwill "has gained extraordinary confidence" of the Indian government.

Reports of "serious problems with his staff" are no secret in New Delhi's diplomatic circles, Mr. Mohan said.

However, when reports surfaced in Washington about low staff morale at the embassy, the State Department responded with comments that puzzled the Indian government, he said.

A spokesman said speculation on a recall of Mr. Blackwill "hurts our relationship" with India.

"The reluctance of the State Department to dismiss media reports on Mr. Blackwill's recall as 'baseless' has begun to puzzle South Block," Mr. Mohan said, referring to the prime minister's office.

Mr. Blackwill, a political appointee who took up the post in July, was a foreign policy adviser under the first Bush administration.

"Why would Washington want to remove an ambassador who has gained extraordinary confidence of his host government and made such a difference to bilateral relations?" Mr. Mohan asked.

He said the dispute causes some Indian officials to speculate that Washington's "historic tilt towards Pakistan" may be behind the criticism of Mr. Blackwill. During the Cold War, India was more sympathetic toward the Soviet Union, while Pakistan was a staunch U.S. ally.

"The State Department might not be too pleased with the scorching pace set by Mr. Blackwill to upgrade Indo-U.S. relations," he said. "More cooperation has occurred between New Delhi and Washington in the last few months than in the many previous decades."

Other Indian officials suspect arms-control advocates may be "behind the attacks" because Mr. Blackwill advocates an end to a U.S. high-technology blockade against India, imposed after nuclear tests in 1998.

"He is also believed to have been far too aggressive in pushing the Indian case on terrorism in Washington," Mr. Mohan said.

Washington sees Pakistan as an ally in the war against terrorism, but India accuses its neighbor of sponsoring terrorist attacks in the Kashmir region.


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